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San Antonio Probate Blog

Probate is an in-depth legal process

It is common for individuals to name executors to their estates before their passing. Though a person may accept the role of executor, he or she may not fully know what that entails. In particular, that person has the responsibility of handling the probate process in order to close the estate.

Understandably, most Texas residents do not have an extensive understanding of the probate process because they have likely not gone through it before. Hopefully, a loved one created a will before his or her passing which can help provide direct instruction for how to handle certain aspects of the probate proceedings, like those associated with asset distribution. The court will first need to validate the document before its contents can be acted upon.

Tom Petty estate at center of probate litigation

Uncertainty and a need for control can often drive many people's motivations. When a loved one passes away and the remaining estate needs to be settled, it is not unusual for surviving loved ones to wind up in conflict over who should control the estate or at least portions of it. In some cases, probate litigation may be necessary in order to get to the bottom of the issues.

Texas readers may be interested in this type of conflict currently affecting the estate of late musician Tom Petty. Reports indicated that the dispute is between Petty's daughter Adria and his widow, Dana York Petty. Because Petty was such a prolific musical artist, numerous songs that he created had not been released at the time of his death in 2017. As a result, multiple record labels have created compilations and catalogs of his works, two of which have been released. The estate dispute is putting plans on hold indefinitely to release additional works.

Where should you open probate for your loved one's estate?

Though you may know you have the responsibility of opening the probate proceedings for your recently deceased loved one's estate, you may have many questions about the process. If so, you do not have to feel unsuited for the position of executor. Most people who take on this role do not have a full understanding of probate proceedings or their exact duties.

If you have concerns over completing the probate process correctly, you may want to simply take the process one step at a time. For instance, before the proceedings can get underway, you need to open probate with the appropriate court. However, you cannot open probate for a specific estate just anywhere.

Undisclosed settlement reached in probate litigation

There are certain instances in which having expectations can cause more harm than good. However, when a person indicates through his or her estate planning documents that funds will be given to a particular organization, having the expectation of receiving those funds seems appropriate. If sudden changes result in that expectation not becoming reality, probate litigation may result.

Texas residents may be interested in an estate dispute that recently came to a settlement in another state. Apparently, a man had reportedly intended to bequeath his remaining estate to a college, of which he was an alumnus. In 2001, the man created and filed a will that indicated this intention. However, he later became ill, and his cousin took over as the man's power of attorney agent. During that period of ill health before the man's death, a new will was apparently created.

Paying off parental debt during probate

For many Texas residents, understanding the ins and outs of finance is not their forte. As a result, they may find themselves facing many situations in which they wonder how to take the right steps for handling their money. When a parent dies and that person's remaining financial affairs fall into the laps of their surviving adult children, those children may feel at a loss as to what to do. However, many financial aspects must be addressed during probate.

In particular, surviving children may wonder what will happen to their parent's outstanding debts. While the priority debts will likely need to be paid during the probate process, the children do not have to use their personal funds for those payments. In fact, the executor of the estate -- which could be one of the children or someone else -- will handle those payments. Even then, the executor will use estate funds and not pay out of pocket.

Estate funds are used for many probate expenses

Being the executor of a Texas estate means that time, effort and sometimes money needs to be put into settling a person's final affairs. Of course, spending money does not necessarily mean that the executor has to resign him or herself to parting ways with personal funds to complete probate. Instead, estate funds are typically used or the executor will be reimbursed for certain expenses.

If the decedent's home is left as part of the remaining estate, the executor may need to sell that home. If some repairs are needed to spruce the place up a bit to make it more appealing, the executor should not have to pay for those expenses out of pocket. Instead, estate funds should be used. Additionally, if the executor must travel to the home to check on repairs or generally maintain the property, he or she may be able to receive reimbursement for mileage.

Undue influence could give cause for probate litigation

Older people often need help with day-to-day activities, especially when their mental sharpness begins to decline. As a result, Texas family members, friends or hired help may be needed to ensure that those daily needs are met. However, some unscrupulous people may subject a vulnerable person to undue influence, and if this wrongdoing results in an undeserving person obtaining a portion of a deceased individual's estate, probate litigation could result.

Unfortunately, many people can become victims of undue influence, especially young people and the elderly. Often, individuals' brains come up with reasons to help them understand difficult situations. As a result, people are often ready to see an action or event as they expect it to be, even if that is not how it truly is. In cases of undue influence of an elderly person, the individual may expect a caretaker to have his or her best interests at heart and may not question actions that are actually harmful to the person or the estate.

Do you believe an executor has breached the fiduciary duty?

After your loved one passed away, you undoubtedly felt many strong emotions. Even if the event was expected due to illness or old age, it can still hit hard. Still, you may have already known that your family member intended to leave you part of his or her estate, and you look forward to obtaining those assets so that you still have a piece of your loved one.

Of course, before you obtain any property from the estate, the executor must open and proceed with the probate process. You may not know exactly what that entails because your loved one did not name you as executor. You may also not know whether you should have concerns over the manner in which the executor handles the estate. However, as a beneficiary, you have rights, and the executor has a fiduciary duty to you, other beneficiaries and the estate.

Probate is not always required but often is

Most people likely do not find it ideal to jump into complicated situations after the death of a loved one. After all, taking time to process and heal emotionally is important. However, some scenarios may not be put off for too long, and that includes starting the probate process for the decedent's remaining estate.

Because closing an estate takes place after a person's death, it is likely that many Texas residents have not gone through the process before. As a result, they may not even know if it is necessary. In some cases, probate is not required, especially if the decedent had taken steps to avoid it or if assets have payable-on-death designations with named beneficiaries. However, most people do not take the time to plan to avoid probate, and it is often a necessary step.

No estate planning instructions makes probate more difficult

Families often have the obligation of settling the estates of their deceased loved ones. Probate is the process typically used to carry out the needed tasks to close an estate if the decedent did not take steps to avoid the process. Unfortunately, some individuals do not plan ahead at all or do not attempt to do so before it is too late, and family members are commonly left struggling.

Texas residents may be interested in this type of difficult situation that a woman in another state is experiencing. The woman's mother did not leave a will, trust or any other type of estate planning document before her passing. The family tried to put some paperwork in order before that time came and had to do so at the expense of leaving their mother while she did not have much time left.

Aldrich Law Firm, PLLC

Aldrich Law Firm, PLLC
8700 Crownhill Blvd.
Suite 200
San Antonio, TX 78209

Phone: 210-418-1150
Fax: 210-598-7221

8700 Crownhill Blvd. | Suite 200 | San Antonio, TX 78209
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